George Morse, the well known North Woods Guide, was killed in the terrible battle near the James river. Born in the woods, he was never contented out of them. Although friends, who appreciated his good qualities, often tried to induce him to change his mode of life, and to apply himself to some of the ordinary pursuits of civilization, he could never long keep away from the woods and waters of our Northern wilderness. He was lost in towns, while he knew every river and mountain and lake of the vast forest reaching from the Mohawk to the St. Lawrence. He was our beau ideal of a woodsman–of exhaustless endurance–with an eye like the eagle’s–equally fearless and gentle–proud of his wife and children–temperate in all things and the best shot in the state. As a guide, he was invaluable–quiet, attentive, unobtrusive and kind-hearted–anticipating every want–always watchful and never at fault. “We ne’er shall look upon his like again.”
He was an enthusiastic lover of the Union, and joined the Herkimer regiment (the Thirty-fourth) soon after it took the field. His habits of life rendered him invaluable as a scout, and he was employed as such whenever unusual skill was necessary to accomplish the result desired. His adventures while thus employed, would fill a volume. Scores of rebels were made to bite the dust by his trusty rifle. And yet cruelty constituted no part of his composition. As an illustration: While scouting near Ball’s Bluff, on the Potomac, he approached to within a few yards of the dwelling of a rebel spy, who, with his wife, was at the moment drinking tea near the open door of the house, which was surrounded by rebel troops. The capture or death of the spy was an ambition with him. Nothing laid so near his heart; (for he had caused the death of two Union scouts a few days before) and he was buoyant with exultation when he had him thus within short range. But the wife sat in a direct line of her husband, and it was impossible to shoot the one without hitting the other. The temptation was very great, but George Morse could not peril the life of a woman even to kill a spy; and, heavy-hearted, he retired, trusting to the chances of another day.
With the best intentions in the world, he could never tie himself down to camp life or to the soldier’s drill. His colonel knew this, and making him a sergeant, allowed him to do as he pleased; and the whole regiment acquiesced. As a reward they were often feasted upon rebel spoils, gathered by our lamented friend as an amusement. It was an almost every-day occurrence to see him marching into camp with eatable burthens, heavy as himself, upon his shoulders; and when any sick soldier coveted some delicacy unattainable in camp it was only necessary to “tell George Morse” to ensure it.
Those who knew him can fancy his efficiency in battle. He never fought in the ranks. He was own captain and general. He never wasted powder or ball; and every other man in the army may have been fatigued, but he was not. We can imagine him in the retreat, leaping or crawling, from tree to tree, within short range of the enemy’s advance, loading and firing with the rapidity of lightning, but with the red man’s caution, and bringing down his game at every shot. When he fell, one of the most effective men in that entire host of heroes fell; and tears will be shed in forest huts and in city palaces when it is announced that George Morse is dead.
Originally posted 2008-12-26 18:08:12.